Honoring My Unknown Great-Grandmother
This article begins with a family story about the author’s great grandmother, whose name wasn’t even known by the storyteller. Using Litvak resources, the author reconstructed the facts surrounding the story and was able to validate most of the details surrounding the tale. Ultimately, this effort proved to be the gateway to unfolding the wider story of the family, whose origins were in Telšiai, but ultimately spanned the globe.
“Behold, you are consecrated to me with this ring, according to the laws of Moses and Israel.” Every groom speaks these words to his future wife during the traditional Jewish marriage ceremony. The bride, left a pregnant widow in her early 30s, was again standing before her groom, this time on a spring day in her home village of Telšiai, Lithuania. Instead of a 22 year-old prospective husband, she was now facing a 50 year-old widower as her new groom. What was going through her mind at the time, and how did she end up in this situation?
Margaret Harris Chodos related the story she had been told of her father’s early childhood. Her father, who adopted the name Harry Harris in Ireland, was, she said, born in a place in Lithuania that “sounded like Masada.” Harry’s father died very young, possibly of flu, while his mother, whose name she didn’t know, was pregnant with his sister Yetta. Harry’s mother met a widower who said he would marry her and adopt the baby as his own, but didn’t want the responsibility for her two sons. They were sent away, Harry landing in Ireland, and his brother Charles in the United States. Margaret’s grandmother and her new husband later had a daughter of their own, Margaret’s aunt, Lena Gitkind, née Chait.
A tentative timeline for these events turned out to be substantially correct; a few details were off, and some are not provable, but can be implied by the few records that exist.
Family lore never referred to Harry’s mother by name, so the first step in investigating her story was to determine her identity. An old high school family biography, with Harry’s youngest son Leonard as informant, named his grandmother as Yetta, maiden name unknown. Leonard was an unreliable informant regarding his grandparents’ names – three named in the family biography have been disproved by subsequent research – so there was no reason to believe that it would be any different with his paternal grandmother. His sister Margaret said that the name was impossible – since Harry had a sister named Yetta, there is no way her mother would have had the same name – she would never have been named for a living person. Harry, who had been sent away from home at a young age, didn’t know his mother’s full maiden name, although he stated it was “Etta Rubbin” [sic] on his marriage certificate. His siblings didn’t help much, although they did clarify that her surname was Rosen/Rosin. Harry’s brother, Charles Krawitz, stated his mother’s name as “Frances Rosen” on his Social Security application (SS-5). Harry’s half-sister Lena Chait Gitkind stated it as “Edith Rosen.” Finally, his sister Yetta Harris Abrams listed “Fanny Harris, Maiden Name Rosen” as her mother on her 1916 marriage registration. The breakthrough came when Lena’s grandson Neil Gitkind sent a photo of his grandmother Lena, standing by her mother’s grave, showing, in the Hebrew text, that the mystery given name was “Feige Itte.”
All these names made sense now, since her children decided to anglicize her first name for their official English-language documents. Immigrants with the name of Feige often chose the name Frances or Fanny. Itte can be translated as Etta, Edith or Yetta in English. The fact that their mother never left Lithuania apparently never troubled her children when they chose new names for her on their own official documents.
Lena’s grandson Neil also stated that his great grandmother was born in Telšiai, Lithuania, known as “Teltz” in Yiddish. This turned out to be great news, as there were plenty of vital records available for this town, unlike the two towns where she settled after marriage. Both of her marriages took place in Telšiai, the home of the bride’s family. She also returned home to give birth to at least one of her children, as was sometimes customary. Archival requests produced her two marriage registration documents, as well as the birth registration for her first son, Chone Feivush, who later became Charles. The Lithuanian State Historical Archives also sent a number of other documents about her extended family.
The few records found for Feige Itte Rosen and her two husbands provide the only genuine insights into her life. The first is her marriage registration to Josel Yitzhak Krawitz, Harry Harris’ father. The marriage took place in Telšiai on 24 Feb 1874 between the orphan Josel son of Movsha Kravets and Miss Feiga-Ita daughter of Vulf Rossin. According to the Lithuanian archivist, the “orphan” designation probably means that both of the groom’s parents had died by the time of his wedding.
Figure 1 - Entry 4, Marriage of Josel Kravets and Feige Itte Rosin, 24 Feb 1874, LVIA 1226/1/845.
The birth of Harry’s brother, Chone Feivush, occurred on 11 Nov 1876, also in Telšiai, but from his birth record we learn that the family actually lived in Skuodas: “Khonel-Faivush, son of the town-dweller of Skuodas Community Josel son of Movsha Kravets and his wife Feige-Ita, was born in Telšiai on the 11 of November (Kislev 7) 1876. Rabbi and Gavshon did the circumcision on the 9th of December (Tevet 5) 1876, as the baby was ill.”
Figure 2 – Entry 95, Birth of Chone Feivush Kravets (later Charles Krawitz), 11 Nov. 1876, LVIA 1226/1/1168
Chone became Charles after he immigrated, and Charles’ family was surprised to discover his birthplace, since they were told, tongue in cheek, that his family were “horse thieves from Skhud,” i.e., Skuodas. Harry’s Canadian Citizenship record also states that he was “formerly of Scud, province of Kovno, Russia” (currently in Lithuania). There is no birth record for Harry (born Hirsch), which either means that the birth record from Telšiai did not survive or that he was born in Skuodas, which doesn’t have any late 19th century birth, marriage or death records.
Figure 3 – Skuodas, Lithuania - "View down Metsad St., Lined with homes and shops (1920s - 30s)"YIVO Photo Collection
Harry’s family was poor, as reflected in two box taxpayer records for his father Yossel Krawitz, both of which showed the notation of “poor”. Box taxes were levied on the Jewish communities of imperial Russia, and for people designated as poor or indigent, the taxes were paid by the community. Yossel Krawitz showed up as poor in 1877, at age 24 and his status hadn’t improved at all by 1881.
Figure 4 - Grave of Yetta (Yosela Raitza) Abrams, daughter of Yosef Yitzhak, Montreal, QC
The inventory of vital records for the LitvakSIG’s Telšiai District Research Group (DRG) does not include any 19th century records for either Skuodas or Mosedis. There is no death record for Yossel Krawitz, but Feige Itte’s remarriage in Telšiai in 1889, with her status as a widow on her marriage document, implies that he died before 7 May 1889. His cause of death is unknown. The story about Feige Itte being widowed while pregnant with Yetta is not verifiable, but it can be inferred by two pieces of evidence. According to Jewish tradition, children are named for deceased family members. In the absence of a birth record, it was a surprise to discover that Yetta’s gravestone in Montreal shows that Yetta’s Yiddish name was “Yossela Raitza, daughter of Yosef Yitzhak.” Yossela is an unusual name, the female form of the male name Yossel, Yetta’s father’s name. Yetta’s age is difficult to determine, since the evidence is contradictory. Her recently discovered ship manifests, the German departure manifest from Hamburg, and the corresponding American passenger list, show Yetta’s age as 16 in September 1903, implying a birth year of 1887. Note that Yetta immigrated under the surname “Krawetz” [sic], not her stepfather’s surname “Chait,” implying that Yossel Krawitz was her father. Other sources show varying ages, all but her marriage record implying a birth before 1889. Based on her name, “Yossele” and her likely birthdate, the story of Feige Itte being pregnant at the time of her father’s death appears to be true.
Records show “The Mosedis town-dwller Girsh son of Zalman Khaiet, widower, 50 years old, married to the Skuodas town-dweller Feiga-Ita (daughter of Vulf) Kravets, 30 years old, in Telšiai on the 7th day of May (Iyar 18) 1889.” The marriage register refers to the bride as a widow. The groom was considerably older than the bride, who seems to have aged only 12 years in 15. It is hard to imagine how the young widow felt about remarrying after her husband died, let alone to somebody so much older, although she might have seen it as a lifeline, since poor widows had few alternatives in those days. In contrast to her first husband, the 1881 box tax records, show Girsh son of Zelman Khayet as a “well-to-do” trader.
Figure 5 - Marriage of Girsh Chait to Feige Itte Kravets, 7 May 1889,
Why did Margaret say that her father was born in Mosedis, which is about 8 miles from Skuodas? Since Hirsh Chait, Feige Itte’s new husband, was a resident of Mosedis, the family likely moved to Mosedis, and was living there when her father and his brother left Lithuania, probably a year or so later. Harry’s half-sister Lena Chait, born around 1900, was born and raised in Mosedis, according to her recollections and immigration documents.
Was the tradeoff Feige Itte made regarding her older children worth it? Although she most certainly married for financial security, she had to give up her two sons to do so. This couldn’t have been easy for her, although at that time, it was not unusual for people in their teens to emigrate. Chone Feivush was, according to his daughter, sent to live with an uncle in Iron Mountain, MI, although no evidence has been found to support this. The 1900 census (by which time his name was Charles Krawitz), shows his year of immigration to the United States as 1890, which would have made him no older than fourteen when he arrived. He ultimately settled in Chicago, where he married Emma Dunas on 17 September 1899 at Congregation Ansh[ei] Schavel. The main record of Hirsh/Harry’s emigration story is anecdotal, based on information that he told his children, which has been passed on to his grandchildren over the years. For reasons that are unclear, Hirsh ended up in Ireland instead of America, probably at the beginning of the 1890s. Unfortunately, the UK did not keep records of ships inbound from the European continent, although family story indicates that he was possibly aged 12 or 13. Hirsh changed his name to Harry Harris while in Ireland, and he worked as a peddler. His immigration record to the New York City indicates that his last residence was Athlone, Ireland [County Westmeath] and his occupation was “Traveller,” which is British English for a commercial traveler, i.e., peddler. On 13 March 1905, Harry married Itte Mere (Mary) Skuder, a fellow immigrant from Skuodas. Mary did not like New York and she had cousins in Montreal, so the couple moved there after the birth of their first child.
There is no evidence that Yetta benefitted from the arrangement. As stated previously, she left Lithuania in 1903 around the age of 16, and in 1905 was living with her brother Harry and his wife in New York. She apparently moved to Montreal at the same time they did, and she, too, later married an older widower. Yetta’s family spoke of her as a simple illiterate woman. Her nephews used to write letters in Yiddish for her so that she could communicate with her family back home.
As for Lena, Ben Gitkind, her husband, also from Mosedis, was interviewed by her sons in 1982. Ben stated that Lena’s mother died when she was 16 and at that point she was alone. Presumably her father had died before his younger wife, which implies that once again Feige Itte was a widow. Feige Itte Chait, born Rosin, died on 26 April 1917, during a time of war and political instability in the Russian Empire.
Figure 6 -- Lena Chait at her mother’s grave
Were it not for a photo of Lena standing by her mother’s grave, her death, too, would be unknown, as the wooden grave marker has not survived. Lena was taken in by another family in the town who trained her as a dressmaker, and she remained close to one of these family members who later settled in New York. Harry, who by that time had had moved to Montreal, sponsored Lena’s immigration to Canada, which, after much paperwork and a special visa, took place in 1925. Lena ultimately married her boyfriend from Mosedis, who had settled in New York, and she lived in the Bronx for the remainder of her life.
Feige Itte Rosin remained a mystery until her grandson Neil provided hints through the photographs he got from his grandmother. We may never know the full details Feige Itte’s life but at least we can appreciate the difficulties she faced due to what little information survives. She is no longer unknown.
 Harry was born Hirsh Krawitz. The town that sounded like “Masada” was known as Maisad, present-day Mosedis, in Lithuania.
 Margaret Chodos Harris (now deceased), daughter of Harry Harris, telephone interview and questionnaire transcript by Marion Werle, about 1995, privately held by Marion Werle, 2020.
 Marion Harris [Werle], unpublished family biography, 13 June 1966, privately held by Marion Werle, 2020.
 New York, Department of Health, Division of Vital Statistics, Marriage Certificates, no. 6015 (1905), Harris-Skuder; FHL microfilm 1,558,397.
 Charles Krawitz, SS no. 345-23-5593, 27 January 1952, Application for Account Number (Form SS-5), Social Security Administration, Baltimore, Maryland. Unlike Harry, Charles did not change his surname.
 Lena Gitkind, SS no. 060-05-5853 (this is her husband Ben Gitkind’s SSN), 25 Jun 1972, Application for Account Number (Form SSA-9638), Social Security Administration, Baltimore, Maryland.
 Institut Généalogique Drouin, "Quebec Vital and Church Records, 1621-1968," database, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 12 July 2011), marriage registration for Woolf Abraham and Yettie Harris; citing Jewish Beth Isaac, Montreal Quebec, Folio 8, 1916.
 Unknown cemetery, (likely Mosedis, Kretenga, Lithuania – now destroyed), Feige Itte Chait headstone, original photographer unknown, photo privately held by Neil Gitkind. Headstone text [Hebrew] "Here lies Mrs. Feige Itte [illegible] Mr. Zvi Chait, died the 4th of Iyar 5677 [26 Apr 1917]".
 Lietuvos Valstybes Istorijos Archyvas [Lithuanian State Historical Archives], Metrical Books, Kovna Gubernia (province), 1822-1940, Telšiai Marriages (1874), #4, Josel son of Movsha Kravets and Feiga-Ita daughter of Vulf Rossin, 24 February 1874, LVIA 1226/1/845 , Lithuanian State Historical Archives, Vilnius, Lithuania. The age of the groom was 22. Most of the Lithuanian vital records cited here from the Lithuanian State Historical Archives in Vilnius (which have since been indexed by LitvakSIG and digitized by FamilySearch) were obtained directly from the archives in response to a request submitted in 2003. They were copied from Metrical books submitted by the Crown Rabbinate in Kovno province, Russia (present-day Kaunas, Lithuania), and cover the period from 1822 to 1940. The archival designation LVIA is followed by the numeric designation (fond, volume, etc.) of the specific reference. The digital copy is at https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-L9GQ-N5HD .
 Lietuvos Valstybes Istorijos Archyvas [Lithuanian State Historical Archives], Metrical Books, Kovna Gubernia (province), 1822-1940, Telšiai Births (1876), 37, male #95, Khonel-Feivush son of Josel Kravets, 11 November 1876, LVIA 1226/1/1168, Lithuanian State Historical Archives, Vilnius, Lithuania. The father is listed as “the town-dweller of the Skuodas community.” The digital copy is at https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-99GQ-JYY2 .
 Montreal. Circuit Court, "Citizenship Registration Records for the Montreal Circuit Court (1851-1945)," entry for Harry Harris, 1909, database, Library and Archives Canada, (http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/genealogy/index-e.html : accessed 27 Jun 2011); citing Volume: 891, File Number: 4646, Reference: RG 6 F3, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
 "View down Metsad St., Lined with homes and shops (1920s - 30s)", SKVODAS 1 LI, Photo Collection on Video Disk; YIVO Photo Collection YIVO Institute, New York, NY.
 Anatolij Chayesh, "Box-Tax Paperwork Records As a source of information about the life of Jewish communities and their personal structure”, Translated by Leonid Bogatin (https://www.litvaksig.org/information-and-tools/online-journal/box-tax-paperwork-records: accessed 15 May 2020).
 "All Lithuania Database, Tax and Voters Lists, 1839-1949," Box Taxpayers – Unable to pay (1877),” Skuodas and Mosedis, Telsiai, Kaunas, 181, #487, Iosel Kravets son of Movsha, April 1877, database, LitvakSIG (https://www.litvaksig.org/all-lithuania-database/search-ald / : accessed 14 Mar 2015); citing KRA/I-49/1/12938, Kauno regioninis valstybes archyvas [Kaunas Regional State Archives], Kaunas, Lithuania; also " Box Taxpayers – Unable to pay (1881),” Skuodas, Telsiai, Kaunas, 148, #171, Iosel Kravets son of Movsha, 5 Mar 1881; citing KRA
 The members-only Telšiai District Research Group website shows that Skuodas has vital records for the interwar period only. (https://donors.litvaksig.org/site/telsiai/vital-records : accessed 30 January 2019). The LitvakSIG (Special Interest Group) inventory reflects what is available from the various Lithuanian archives.
 JewishData, JewishData.com, digital images (http://www.jewishdata.com, accessed 29 Jan 2010), image gravestone for Yetta Abrams (1951), Baron de Hirsch Cemetery - North End Wilkomirer, Montreal, Quebec, Canada. [Hebrew] "Here lies Yosele Raitza daughter of Mr. Yosef Yitzhak, died the 27th of Shevat 5711, May her soul be bound up in the bond of everlasting life." [English] “In memory of my beloved mother Yetta Abrams, died Feb 1, 1951, age 67.”
 "Hamburg Passenger Lists, 1850-1934," digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 27 December 2019); manifest, Dampfshiffe Palatia, departed Hamburg, 5 September 1903, page 2311 (penned), line , Jetti Krawetz, age 16; citing VIII A 1 Band 147 (September 1903), Page: 2311, Microfilm No. K_1781, Hamburger Auswanderlisten [Hamburg Emigration Lists], Staatsarchiv Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany. Also "New York, Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957," online images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 27 Dec 2019), manifest, S.S. Palatia, arrived New York 4 September 1903, list 9, page 537 (penned), page 51 (stamped), line 11, Jetti Krawetz, age 16.
 1905 State Census, New York County, New York, population schedules, Borough of Manhattan, election district (ED) 18, assembly district (AD) 14, page 15 (penned), line 33, Jettie Harris; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 29 March 2011); citing New York, State Census, 1905, population schedules, New York State Archives, Albany, New York. Yetta’s age shows as 18 (YOB abt. 1888); Institut Généalogique Drouin, "Quebec Vital and Church Records, 1621-1968," marriage registration for Woolf Abraham and Yettie Harris lists her age as 23 (YOB 1893); Yetta Abrams headstone shows age as 67 in 1951 (YOB abt. 1884).
 Lietuvos Valstybes Istorijos Archyvas [Lithuanian State Historical Archives], Metrical Books, Kovna Gubernia (province), 1822-1940, Telšiai Marriages (1889), #11, Girsh Khait and Feiga-Ita daughter of Vulf Kravets, 7 May 1889, LVIA 1226/1/2069, Lithuanian State Historical Archives, Vilnius, Lithuania. The digital copy is at https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-L9G3-B2V4.
 "All Lithuania Database, Tax and Voters Lists, 1839-1949," entry for KHAET, Girsh son of Zelman, well-to-do, houseowner, trader, box tax payers, Mosedis, May 1881, database, LitvakSIG (http://www.litvaksig.org :accessed 15 March 2015); citing KRA/I-49/1/13612, page 250, record 39.
 Myrtle Krawitz Lerman (now deceased), daughter of Charles Krawitz, telephone interview with Marion Werle, 5 March 1995, notes privately held by Marion Werle, 2020. There is some evidence that the family of Charles’ future wife, Emma Dunas, may have lived in Iron Mountain, Dickinson, Michigan, so it is possible that Myrtle got her family information mixed up. Two granddaughters were told that he was sent to an uncle in New Jersey or New York. See Lynne Morse to Marion Werle, email, 15 April 2020, “Family,” Marion Werle personal files. Information used with permission of the sender. An uncle named Hyman Kravitz did not come to America until later, so there was likely another relative already in the U.S.
 1900 U.S. census, Cook County, Illinois, population schedule, Chicago, Enumeration District (ED) 55, sheet 12B (penned), dwelling 128, family 273, Chas Krawitz; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 11 March 2015); citing National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) microfilm T623, roll 246.
 "Illinois Marriages, 1815-1935," database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:V2P2-LGR : accessed 1 November 2018), certificate 297474 (1899), Charles Krawitz - Emma Dunas, 17 Sep 1899; citing Cook County Clerk, Cook County Courthouse, Chicago, Illinois; FHL microfilm 1,030,301. This certificate is not viewable from home, and must be viewed at a Family History Center. The synagogue name, “People of Shavel” refers to inhabitants of the Lithuanian town of Shavel (present-day Šiauliai), about 50 miles east of Telšiai. Like other immigrants, Charles apparently gravitated towards a synagogue founded by people from the general area where he grew up, i.e., Kovno province.
 Margaret Chodos Harris telephone interview, abt. 1995.
 "New York Passenger Arrival Lists (Ellis Island), 1892-1924," digital image, FamilySearch, (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:JF2Q-K53 : accessed 7 May 2020), manifest, SS Etruria, arrived New York City, 5 July 2902, list 2, page 53 (stamped), line 5, Harry Harris, age 23
 Manhattan (New York City) Marriage Records, 1866-1937, certificate 6015 (1905), Harris-Skuder, 13 March 1905; citing New York City Municipal Archives, New York, New York; FHL microfilm 1558397.
 1905 State Census, New York County, N.Y., pop. sch., Manhattan, page 2115 (penned), line 33, Jettie Harris.
 1982 taped interview with Ben Gitkind, conducted by Hal, Helen and Ed Gitkind, transcribed by Neil Gitkind, 29 Apr 2012, transcription copy held by Marion Werle, 2020.
 Feige Itte Chait headstone, photo privately held by Neil Gitkind.
 "Canadian Passenger Lists, 1865-1935," digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 23 February 2013); manifest, S.S. Andania, 3 October 1925, Halifax, page 8 (penned), Lina Chait, age 25; citing RG 76-C, reel T-4803, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Ontario.